Don't Save Anything: Uncollected Essays, Articles, and Profiles

Don't Save Anything: Uncollected Essays, Articles, and Profiles



The Pequod Review:

Don't Save Anything is an odds-and-ends collection of articles, essays and interviews drawn from across James Salter's (1925-2015) long career. Salter's subjects vary widely, and include Vladimir Nabokov, West Point Military Academy, Bill Clinton, the process of screenwriting, and his travels through Europe. Too many of these have a dashed-off feel (especially his more topical essays) but a few showcase the dazzling observational prose that make his fiction so enchanting. Here for example he describes rock climbing: 

Climbing is more than a sport. It is entry into myth. For those irresistibly drawn to it, it becomes a life, and there is always a pack of dazzling new climbers biting at the tails of those who have gone before. The important routes have all been climbed. Many of them have now been climbed free; in some cases they are being done solo. Charlie Fowler, who is celebrated for being so far out that what he does is almost unimaginable, last year soloed the Diamond, eight vertical pitches in an hour and a half, without a rope. This doesn’t discourage young climbers, rather it seems to draw them on. Only a few, in any case, will have the talent and intensity to make themselves known. For most of them there is joy enough in the feeling of working their way upward.

Jim Erickson, on the other hand, has seen the darkness that lies at the end of ambition satisfied. He works as the manager of a small factory and climbs occasionally. He studied music and is married to a violinist. They have a son. Erickson’s name, together with a few others like Pat Ament’s and Roger Briggs’s, will always be linked with a certain period of Colorado climbing, but for the veterans, those who have given everything, there is an emptiness afterward. Life is not the same.

Climbing has no referees, no arena, no titles. It has a certain ethic that, in recent years, has been veering toward the extreme. The hard climbs in Eldorado are visible because of the chalk marks on them, evidence of where crucial handholds are. Erickson will not use chalk—the white bag of courage, it has been called. Further, he will not continue a first ascent on which he takes a fall. If that happens, he goes down and abandons the attempt permanently. His feeling is that no climb should be done in a way that differs from how it would be done solo without a rope. Even the retreat, if one must be made, can have nothing artificial about it such as lowering off a piece of protection.

Not everyone conforms to such standards, of course—not everyone can. Climbing has its champions, and they are chosen in what is perhaps the only way. They are singled out in the hearts of others in a confusion of envy and love. They are champions for reasons that are in part clear—their accomplishments, their personalities—but also for things that are not so easy to define. A brilliant climb in itself is not enough to elevate someone into the pantheon. Mountains cannot be assassinated nor the heights won in a single day. The glory belongs only to those who have earned it and usually over a period of time. In this regard, the morality is absolute. There are no upsets, no undeserved triumphs. In one sense, there is no luck. This severity gives the sport its strength. There is a paradise and a final judgment. Above all, climbing is honest. Honor is its essence.

Salter's fiction remains his crowning achievement, but serious fans will find a lot to enjoy here as well.